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Study: Ultrasound better targets cancer drugs

Using ultrasound technology, researchers were able to better target a liposome drug delivery system to cancerous tumors.

For the first time, researchers at the University of Oxford used an ultrasound to remotely trigger and enhance the chemotherapy medication into human tissue. Their findings were published Monday in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

"Reaching therapeutic levels of cancer drugs within a tumor, while avoiding side effects for the rest of the body is a challenge for all cancer drugs, including small molecules, antibodies and viruses," Dr. Constantin Coussios, director of the Oxford Center for Drug Delivery Devices, said in a press release.

Building on more than a decade of preclinical studies, the researchers found the ultrasound makes a difference.

"It is possible to safely trigger and target the delivery of chemotherapy deep within the body from outside the body using focused ultrasound," Coussios said. "Once inside the tumor, the drug is released from the carrier, supplying a higher dose of chemotherapy directly to the tumor, which may help to treat tumors more effectively for the same or a lower systemic dose of the drug."

In the phase 1 clinical trial, 10 patients had primary or secondary liver tumors that were inoperable. All previously received chemotherapy.

They focused the ultrasound from outside the body to heat liver tumors to 103 degrees Fahrenheit and trigger drug release from heat-sensitive carriers, known as thermosensitive liposomes. The drug Doxorubicin was used in low-temperature-sensitive liposomes.

For the patients, chemotherapy concentrations within their liver tumosr increased by an average of 3.7 times from what it was before ultrasound exposure. It was 10 times as much in one patient.

"This trial offers strong evidence of the rapidly evolving role of radiology in not only diagnosing disease but also in planning, guiding and monitoring therapy," co-lead investigator Dr. Fergus Gleeson, a radiologist, said.

Researchers believe the system can be used in hard-to-treat areas.

"The ability of ultrasound to increase the dose and distribution of drug within those regions raises the possibility of eliciting a response in several difficult-to-treat solid tumors," principal investigator Dr. Mark Middleton, an oncologist researcher, said. "This opens the way not only to making more of current drugs but also targeting new agents where they need to be most effective. We can now begin to realize the promise of precision cancer medicine."

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